Tuesday, August 26, 2014

August 26th, 1914

- In line with his General Instruction No. 2, Joffre establishes the new 6th Army, to be formed at Amiens and commanded by General Michel-Joseph Maunoury.  It will initially consist of VII Corps, drawn from Alsace, and two reserve divisions currently fighting in Lorraine.  As lead elements of these units detrain at Amiens, the Army of Lorraine, briefly established to cover the offensive into the Ardennes, and the Army of Alsace, are stood down, their remaining units assigned to neighbouring armies.

The situation on the Western Front, Aug. 26th, 1914

- Joffre travels to BEF headquarters today, summoning Generals Lanrezac and d'Amade to meet them as well.  Joffre needs the BEF to remain in the Entente line, retreating on level with 5th Army, but Joffre is hamstrung by the fact that he cannot give orders to Sir John French - indeed, as a Field Marshal the latter technically outranks the former.  Thus Joffre must try to use persuasion.

The meeting, however, is a complete disaster.  French begins by listing all of the ways in which the armies of France have let himself and the British down, ending with Lanrezac's retreat of 5th Army on the 23rd.  Lanrezac, for his part, has had enough of British equivocations, and contributes little beyond shrugs of contempt and icy stares; the commanders of the two adjacent armies refuse to directly speak to one another.  Joffre discovers that the British commander has not even read his General Instruction No. 2 yet - though his staff had received it, they had not yet translated it to him.  Joffre attempts to patiently outline his requirements of the BEF, but is unable to extract any promise from Sir John French.  The meeting breaks up without result.

- The gloom at BEF headquarters is matched by the events on the battlefield today.  Early this morning, elements of Haig's I Corps skirmishes with parts of the German 1st Army, both attempting to bed down in the same small French village.  The fighting breaks off quickly, but the normally cool Haig temporarily loses his nerve, informing Sir John French that I Corps is under major attack..  The news rattles BEF headquarters - French's chief of staff faints, and he himself orders I Corps to undertake a precipitate retreat.  Crucially, the direction of I Corps' retreat will cause it to be separated from II Corps by the Oise River.

More serious is the plight of II Corps to the left at Le Cateau.  Reconnaissance by the BEF's lone cavalry division under General Edmund Allenby discovers just after midnight that units of the German 1st Army are close enough to attack II Corps first thing in the morning.  When informed at 2am, General Smith-Dorrien consults his divisional commanders, who declare that their forces are too tired and disorganized to undertake a nighttime retreat.  Smith-Dorrien thus decides that II Corps will remain and fight the Germans until they can withdraw.

Opposite II Corps are two corps of the German 1st Army.  Two further German corps attempted to turn II Corps left flank, but were blocked by the actions of General d'Amade's forces and the redeployed French cavalry under General Sordet.  The battle thus consists largely of frontal German assaults on the British positions, coupled with heavy artillery fire.  Though the Germans suffer significant casualties, superior numbers and artillery take their toll - II Corps loses eight thousand men and thirty-eight guns.  However, from 5pm onwards II Corps is able to successfully disengage from the battle and resume the retreat.  The Battle of Le Cateau is a tactical German victory, but once again the British have managed to retire before being enveloped.  The Entente forces are being defeated and pushed back, but not destroyed.

The top part of the map gives the Battle of Le Cateau, Aug. 26th, 1914, and the bottom half gives the Battle of Guise
(also known as the Battle of St. Quentin), Aug. 29th, 1914.

- For several weeks discussion has occurred among Government ministers in France regarding bringing in leading figures from opposition parties to sit on the Council of Ministers, in order to give the Government a broader base of support and make real Poincarè's commitment to a Sacred Union.  A reconstruction also gives an opportunity to assign blame for the initial defeats on a retiring minister.  In this case, War Minister Adolphe Messimy is the natural culprit, seen as responsible for the conduct of the war, and criticized for excessively optimistic communiques.  When asked to Messimy, though, Messimy refuses, resulting in Premier Viviani having to tender the resignation of the entire Council of Ministers, to allow for the creation of a new Council without Messimy.  Infuriated at his treatment, Messimy leaves for the front as a Major of Reserves, and is replaced as War Minister by Alexandre Millerand.

- In East Prussia Ludendorff has a momentarily attack of nerves when reports reach him that elements of the Russian 1st Army are moving southwest.  He fears being attacked in the flank by the Russian 1st Army while the operation against 2nd Army is still underway, and wonders if it should be cancelled.  It is in this type of situation that Hindenburg shines.  Nothing can shake his confidence and self-belief - he had agreed to Ludendorff's plan, so it would be seen through, and that was that.  He reassures Ludendorff that the reported movement is merely a few cavalry units, and the latter's equilibrium is restored.

XVII and I Reserve Corps arrive on the battlefield today, to the east of XX Corps.  Before them is the Russian VI Corps, guarding the right flank of the Russian 2nd Army.  When the two German corps attack, the Russians are caught completely by surprise - earlier reconnaissance reports of troop movements to the north had been explained as Russian, not German, units.  The Russian corps commander suffers a nervous breakdown, five thousand casualties were suffered, and by nightfall VI Corps was retreating in utter disarray.  2nd Army's right flank was no longer protected.

On the other side of the battlefieldGeneral François again delays attacking the Russian I Corps before him.  Ludendorff personally visits the headquarters of I Corps, insisting that General François carry out his orders.  As his artillery arrives this evening, François agrees to attack tomorrow morning.

- Ludendorff is informed by a staff officer at OHL that two corps are being transferred from the Western to the Eastern Front.  Ludendorff is astonished - he is well aware of the intricate and detailing planning that has gone into the German invasion of France through Belgium, and can barely comprehend how these plans could be disrupted by a subtraction of forces before France has been decisively defeated.  He informs OHL that the reinforcements are not needed and in any case would not arrive before the decisive battle already underway.  Ludendorff's objections are brushed aside, and the redeployment continues.

- In the Baltic Sea, the German light cruiser Magdeburg runs aground just off the entrance to the Gulf of Finland.  Though the ship was destroyed by the Germans, the Russians manage to recover a copy of the German naval codebook, a vital seizure that will in time allow the British to begin to break German codes regarding naval operations.

- The Russian 5th Army, marching southwest towards Austro-Hungarian Galicia in aid of the Russian 4th Army, begins to collide with elements of the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army, advancing northwards, opening the Battle of Zamość-Komarów.  One corps on the Russian right brushes past an enemy corps, suffers heavy artillery fire, and retreats northwards in disarray, Austro-Hungarians in pursuit.

To the south, however, the campaign is going against Austria-Hungary.  General Rudolf von Brudermann, commanding 3rd Army east of Lemberg, believes there is only a small Russian force before him, and advances.  He collides into the Russian 3rd and 8th Armies on the Zlota Lipa River and, significantly outnumbered, suffers a sharp defeat, some of the Austro-Hungarian divisions suffering up to two-thirds casualties.  Brudermann's army is able to withdraw to the Gnipa Lipa River.

- A congress of the Nationalist Party, the chief opposition party in South Africa, is held in Pretoria.  The Nationalists reflect the position of the more anti-British portion of the Boer population, and some of its leaders have considered rebellion.  However, the congress endorses a position of neutrality, being pro-South African instead of either pro-British or pro-German - its leader J. B. M. Hertzog believes that remaining out of the war will allow South Africa to benefit from whomever wins in Europe, while choosing sides runs the risk of defeat.

- The German foreign office has assembled a mission of fifteen people to send to Afghanistan, to encourage the Emir to invade British India.  The mission includes Wilhelm Wassmuss, a Persian-speaker experienced with the tribes of the region.  The mission arrives at Constantinople disguised as a travelling circus - the Ottomans are not impressed.

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